Data Warehousing: The Major Players

Dabble in data warehousing long enough and you'll appreciate Yogi Berra's quip about "deja vu all over again." You hear echoes of all the big names, muscling their way into the data warehouse ring: IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp., Sybase Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Sun Microsystems Inc., Digital Equipment Corp., et al. Other players, body slamming their way to the top of the fight card, are forming alliances and partnerships faster than a Steven Seagal karate kick.

Hints of what's coming in the months ahead appear in a number of venues, including the titles of the key talks set for next month at the upcoming Oracle OpenWorld conference: "Integrating Java and Network Computing into a Legacy World" by Scott McNealy, Sun's president and CEO; "Scalable Business Solutions from the Data Warehouse to the Internet" by Robert Palmer, president and CEO, Digital Equipment Corp.; and "The Information Revolution: A Whirlwind of Change, a World of Opportunity" by Lewis Platt, president and CEO, Hewlett-Packard.

It's all part and parcel of the newest hot spot in network computing -- the entire range of data warehousing activities. Here's a thumbnail sketch of what some of the key movers and shakers are pursuing.

IBM Corp.

Armonk, N.Y.

The company that spurred the PC revolution at the beginning of the 1980s just formally joined the data warehousing evolution at the start of 1996. IBM comes on the scene with both barrels firing, offering a full suite of data warehouse products. Earlier in the year, it introduced Intelligent Miner, a knowledge discovery tool kit for developers, and Intelligent Decision Server, a LAN-based information analysis server. Just last month it announced the opening of a $47 million Teraplex Complex to test business intelligence systems, the company's preferred term for data warehouse tools, according to Ben C. Barnes, general manager of IBM's Worldwide Decision Support Solutions unit.

Pitched as the "first scaleable, 'real world' center ever developed for testing live customer Business Intelligence systems, software and applications," the complex is the first of several new data warehouse initiatives for decision support and data mining. Co-located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Rochester, Minn., it will handle a range of UNIX and non-UNIX applications and provide IBM S/390, RS/6000 SP and AS/400 systems with combined storage of 12 terabytes.

According to the company, the amount of information collected by businesses doubles every five years. Industry analysts estimate that businesses currently analyze less than 7 percent of in-house data. Persuading companies to use business intelligence systems, IBM hopes to show them that they can store terabytes of data and apply data mining tools to better understand customer buying patterns and product preferences with market basket analysis, enhance customer intimacy and loyalty with customer relationship management, or detect fraudulent behavior with fraud and abuse management.

"We're working with customers to install business intelligence systems and software -- for data marts, data warehouses, statistical analysis, multidimensional analysis, optimization analysis and data mining. Their objective is to build 'closed loop' business intelligence systems that use information to drive mission-critical applications. Early adopters of business intelligence systems are reporting returns on investment at a ratio of 6 to 1 in 18 months. There are not many places you can put your money and get that kind of return. It's the best payback anyone can get with technology," says Barnes.

He notes that currently there are three major groups of data warehouse users, each with specific skills and data demands. The first is the casual or executive user, one who is comfortable with what used to be called executive information systems, or EIS. The second is the business analyst, one who is spreadsheet-literate and knows how to manipulate and present data for maximum impact. The last is the power user, one with the skills to manage at the sophisticated level of meta data.

Oracle Corp.

Redwood Shores, Calif.

Pat Garvey, Envirofacts Warehouse project coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, walks me through his pages on the World Wide Web ( as we chat over the phone. "We get about 90,000 hits a month now and have already loaded 400,000 pages," says Garvey. "We've got some neat things planned for users, interfacing maps and visuals with the data."

Envirofacts is a RDBMS that integrates data, updated monthly, from five major EPA program systems: EF AIRS/AFS (Aerometric Information Retrieval System and AIRS Facility Subsystem), CERCLIS (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System), PCS (Permit Compliance System), RCRIS (Resource Conservation and Recovery Information System) and TRIS (Toxic Release Inventory System). A recently added form allows users to query all the databases in one search. It's all part of an ambitious data warehouse project, four years in the making, to tie information together from nine major national systems sitting on mainframes and make it available from an Oracle database to Internet users across the nation.

There are comparable projects using Oracle's programs with the state of Maine's Bureau of Information Services, Pacific Gas & Electric and Continental Cablevision.

For example, the state of Maine BIS is building a 10 gigabyte data warehouse based on an Oracle7 database. Information comes from the state's production system, which runs on an IBM mainframe, and is then loaded into the data warehouse and made available over a WAN. End users query the database with a front-end, ad hoc tool called GQL, which presents the information in graphical format.

Long the leader in RDBMS and information management, Oracle pursued the acquisition trail last year to bolster its presence in the data warehousing arena. It acquired the Express online analytical processing, or OLAP, suite from Information Resources Inc. Now renamed, these Express OLAP products help users manage and analyze business data, for example, evaluate sales, manufacturing and distribution trends and deliver enhanced financial reports, analysis and planning data. Recently, the company came out with Oracle7, Release 7.3, the third maintenance release of the relational database component of Oracle Universal Server.

The data warehouse array includes Developer/2000 and Designer/2000 for data warehouse design and modeling; the Oracle Discoverer/2000 for end-user decision support; and the Oracle Express Analyzer and Express Objects for desktop reporting, analysis and development. Oracle Web Server Release 2.0 targets intranet and Internet users by offering dynamic generation of HTML from Oracle7 and Oracle Express databases.

In mid-year, Oracle primed the marketing pump with its Warehouse Technology Initiative Implementor program, a forum to discuss product direction and needs. Its purpose? To help Oracle customers, vendors and systems integrators design and implement enterprise data warehousing systems. Among the more visible members are Price Waterhouse LLP, KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, Acxiom, which offers external customer data and data warehouse outsourcing services, Prism Solutions Inc. and Tactics Inc., a full-service integrator.

Is this market bursting at the seams? The company just announced that Oracle OpenWorld '96 for developers and users, set for Nov. 3-8 at Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, is expected to be the largest U. S. event in its history, with 4,000 already registered and attendance likely to reach 10,000. Among the events, it will profile previews of the Oracle8 RDBMS and Sedona, a new object-oriented application development environment.

Sybase Inc.

Emeryville, Calif.

Hot on the data warehouse trail is Sybase Inc., which launched a major marketing campaign earlier this year to promote, among other products, its Sybase IQ and S-Designor 5.0 tools. The company's two major product units, the Enterprise Business Group and the Powersoft Business Group, focus on the online transaction processing and data warehousing market segments. Among their high profile users are the Air Force Air Combat Command, which tracks squadron-arriving fighters using the company's database program and the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose Coliseum (Community On-Line Intelligence System for End-Users and Managers) data warehouse application was built with the Sybase database.

According to company literature, Coliseum, started in 1992 and set for full operation during the 1997-99 period, is "designed to support the national intelligence community for the registration, validation, tracking and management of crisis and non-crisis production requirements."

Recently, Sybase announced its enterprise data warehouse server, Sybase MPP 11.0, for the Sun Ultra Enterprise Clusters. That product allows customers to manage multiterabyte decision support applications. Combined with Sybase IQ and SQL Server 11, it offers users data warehouse and OLTP applications in a single complex. Such scaleable centralized databases are crucial to Sybase's enterprise data warehousing strategy. Among its users are CEA, the French Nuclear Testing Agency, and KDD, a Japanese telecommunications service provider. KDD has one of the largest open data warehouse environments in the world with 75 IBM RS/6000 SP nodes containing 1.7 terabytes of marketing specific data.

Another corporate initiative is its Data Mall, a partnership with IBM to help customers develop and manage scaleable enterprise data warehouse applications through integrated interactive data marts. The so-called Enterprise Data Mall Architecture links very large database data warehousing with multiple, interactive data marts -- all on the IBM RS/6000 SP.

Informix Software Inc.

Menlo Park, Calif.

Like other data warehouse companies, Informix Software Inc. is growing by acquisition, having bought Illustra Information Technologies Inc. earlier this year. Their vision is reflected on the company Web site (, where they inform users that the combined Illustra/Informix site will be a "next-generation Web experience architected with our own object-relational database technology."

Among their offerings are the Informix-Universal Server, recently released to developers and set for final delivery later this year, their DataBlade modules and MetaCube 3.0. The server is an RDBMS for managing all information assets -- numbers, images, maps, sound, video, Web pages, text, other user-defined or rich data types -- in a single, integrated database. MetaCube 3.0, a collection of DSS software for developing and managing data warehouse applications, is a major upgrade to its relational on-line analytical processing engine. The overall corporate strategy is to deliver ROLAP capabilities inside the database itself.

One local success story for Informix is Giant Food, the Landover, Md.-based 167-store grocery chain located on the East Coast. That company is using technology from Informix, as well as partners IBM, Digital Equipment Corp., MicroStrategy and PeopleSoft, to re-engineer its store operations. Their data warehouse is based on so-called category management, a way to research, buy and sell groceries that Giant hopes will make it more profitable and more competitive. After all, on the bottom line, that's what data warehousing is all about.

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